So in part one we identified experiences in our lives that has caused us to develop negative self thoughts, opinions and beliefs. Hopefully you did the exercises and you’ll be ready to move onto this much shorter but equally as important part.
The reason the past affects our present mind is simply what being a child is when we develop a lot of our world beliefs, opinions and other subjective norms. If you are born in part of the world you will believe Jesus is the son of God, if you born elsewhere you will believe Muhammad is the true prophet. This comes from childhood conditioning. Same goes for what football team you support, left or right wing leaning, national pride etc.
All these things are conditioned into us. Why is you country the best on Earth? Only because you were born there do you believe that, if you had been born a few miles in a different direction you would say elsewhere was the greatest country on Earth. The same goes for our beliefs about ourselves.
Therefore if your parents were hard on you, cruel, mean, unloving, or you were bullied, had no friends, feel you failed to meet expectations in early life etc. you will grow to believe the negative beliefs that formed back then as fact. And even though as an adult you should know better, you don’t because adults are just big babies who pretend better than children to know what the hell is going on.
Furthermore the longer you hold these beliefs and any belief the deeper seated they become. The more you will begin to believe them as fact. People’s political and religious beliefs generally grow stronger as they age. The same goes for your negative self beliefs. These negative self beliefs could be
My best isn’t good enough
Nobody could love me
I’m a bad person
I’m not good at anything
The list goes on, and all of these things are simply not factual. They are opinions. As I said in part 1, nobody is stupid, even Einstein said it. Your best is good enough if you’re doing your best at the right thing. If you aren’t naturally a good footballer and you beat yourself up because you can’t kick a ball in a straight line then that’s pointless. Maybe you just need to practice more, or maybe football just isn’t your sport, perhaps you’d make a fantastic tennis player, snooker player, rugby player, weightlifter, competitive eater etc.
These negative beliefs affect us beyond negative thoughts, they actually shape how we live our lives. What happens is we develop rules for living. Now everyone has rules for living for example if I see a hair on a bar of soap it makes me want to peel my skin off my face, it repulses me. But for people who leave hairs on soap, they clearly don’t mind, it’s not their rule for living. Another example is my mother flips if I don’t put the juice back on the shelf. It’s not a rule for me so I am okay with leaving it on the kitchen counter. We all have these rules, and mostly they are okay as long as we recognise other don’t have to share our rules for living.
But with low self esteem you may develop very unhealthy rules such as
I must be the best at everything!
I must never get lower than an A
I must always do what people will view as the right thing
I must never make a mistake
These rules can come attached with equally unhealthy assumptions such as
If I ask for something from someone, they will reject me
I will never be good enough, no matter how hard I try
If I don’t exercise every single day I will be fat and ugly and unloveable
If I eat that pint of ice cream I’ll be fat
I know you are loving these exercises because I totally did… but when I did them they helped me infinitely! I can’t explain how much these things help. And remember it’s important you keep these exercises saved in a safe place so you can always go back and read them when you need them.
So take your pen and paper and write down a list of your unhealthy rules and assumptions, here’s an example from when I did it
- I must be seen as mentally strong at all times
- I must remain emotionally detached or I’ll be hurt
- Nobody can know I fail, therefore I can’t take the risk of failure
- Emotions are weaknesses
- I have to train hard or I’ll be ugly
So you can see from my list and your list just how negatively these things can affect our lives. Unhealthy rules and assumptions can aid in making your self esteem worse and in making your life needlessly more stressful. You need to now during the day recognise when these rules and assumptions are affecting you. By doing this you can attempt to overcome your unhealthy rules and assumptions.
This one is easy (he said laughing), just write down a few ways in which your rules affect your daily life. Here’s an example from my first attempt at this;
- I get depressed when I fail to meet my own high standards
- I fear relationships because I don’t want to open up and feel weak
- I consistently put myself down
So if you are always able to meet your standards of living you will feel good about yourself. With me I always feel good for eating clean and training hard. Then the world is great. The problem is, we make mistakes, all living things make mistakes and therefore once we make a mistake and break our rule we hammer ourselves and this plummets our self esteem. So even when things seem to be going well your negative beliefs about yourself are still there you just don’t notice them because you are keeping them at bay by living up to your rules.
Essentially negative life experiences will cause us to have negative self beliefs which cause us to develop unhealthy rules about ourselves which all leads to unhelpful behaviour and this behaviour leads us to enforce our negative self beliefs. It’s a vicious circle and you must break it by recognising when your negative rules are impacting your life.
I know that this two parter was a long one and it was difficult at times but it’s worth it if you put them work in. The next post will be about how we maintain our low self esteem and trust me, it’ll be a shorter post than the last two, I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know! Drop a comment and let us know how you get on.